The Ignite Series is a monthly interview of an artist, creator, or community organizer whose passion has inspired us. In honor of its subject, we create a collectible piece of matchbox art for our subscribers.
Paul Hawken is an environmentalist, entrepreneur, journalist and author. Since the age of 20, he has dedicated his life to sustainability, and improving the relationship between business and the environment.
This month we are proud to host a recent interview of Hawken by Kyle Calian of The Regeneration, a magazine with a fresh outlook about the people making waves in the environmental movement. In it, Hawken shares his hopes for the climate movement and his latest endeavor, Project Drawdown.
Paul Hawken (Photo: Raymond Baltar)
Kyle Calian (KC): You've done some incredible work on issues like environmental justice and civil rights. How have you seen the largest movement on Earth change over the years?
Paul Hawken (PH): That makes me happy. I believe the world will awaken soon to regenerative development as the only path that can restore our atmosphere, seas, land and society. In fact, it's the subject of my next book.
The nature of the “largest movement” is that it cannot be seen … by anyone. It is so vast, diverse and widespread. It mutates and evolves constantly. There is no way to track it. My sense is that as certain issues become prominent, it may seem that [the movement] is shifting, but I tend to doubt that. I think what happens is that as new issues arise and become more commonly undertaken, we hear about them more. More layers are being added, like tree rings, but nothing is forsaken.
“I see the science of climate change as a gift, not a curse. Global warming is feedback from the atmosphere. The Earth is a system, and any system that does not incorporate feedback fails.”
KC: Are you worried about the current stance the U.S. government is taking and the message it sends to the rest of the world about our inaction on climate change and the Paris Agreement goals?
Paul Hawken (PH): I am very concerned about the current administration, because it is taking a wrecking ball to America in every way possible. The new president does not understand his job or the oath he took. I am not so worried about the Paris Agreement, however. Most Americans did not understand the Paris Agreement until Trump showboated his non-support. So, that was a big plus. It has awakened the responsible institutions—states, cities, corporations, universities, churches, as well as individuals—to double down on their commitments. Further, J.P. Morgan announced that because the price of renewable energy continues to plummet, the U.S. will meet its Paris commitments regardless of Trump. He has no say in how Americans respond. In this, he is powerless.
KC: The environmental movement needs strong leaders. It has always been the sum of its parts. Who and/or what organizations do you see at the helm of progress right now?
Paul Hawken (PH): Actually, I do not see any organization at the helm. I am not sure there is a helm, to be honest.
KC: What are you hopeful about?
Paul Hawken (PH): I am not sure hope is a useful emotion. Hope is a condition that depends on fear. If you are not worried or apprehensive about something occurring or not occurring in the future, there is nothing to be hopeful for. In essence, hope is the pretty face of fear, and what we need now is fearlessness, not hopefulness. Science has created excellent problem statements, from global warming to ocean acidification, biodiversity loss and more.
Our job is not to fret and cling to threads of hope; our role is to solve the problems. Blame, demonization of others and hand-wringing waste our time and energy. We need to focus on actions that reverse global warming and regenerate all living systems, including human society.
KC: When did you realize you wanted to write "Drawdown"?
Paul Hawken (PH):
Countries with large fossil fuel resources played down what the best climatologists were saying. There is no such thing as consensus science. Science is evidentiary. Later in 2001, Princeton University’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative came out with its famous eight global wedges made up of 15 solutions that, if adopted, could achieve stabilization of atmospheric greenhouse gases by 2050. Eleven of those 15 could only be accomplished by very large energy, utility or car companies. But all 11 were deeply underwater and unaffordable. In other words, to solve emissions, the boards of directors of conservative companies would have to vote to spend down their balance sheet, if not go out of business. Of those 15 [solutions], the only thing you and I could do was put a solar panel on our roof and drive less. There was no mention of agency—what cities, communities, neighborhoods, small business, provinces, states or farmers could do.
And that is when I started to suggest to friends at big environmental NGOs that we/they should make a list of all the top extant solutions, do the math on carbon, calculate the costs and determine whether the solutions, if scaled, could achieve drawdown in a reasonable amount of time. What I also suggested is that we name the goal: drawdown, the point in time when greenhouse gases peak and go down on a year-to-year basis. The goal then and now has been reduction, mitigation, stabilization—and that too did not make sense to me. There is no stability at 450 to 500 ppm. Those levels of CO2 in the atmosphere bring about climate chaos.
In any case, my friends either shrugged or said they did not have the expertise, and neither did I, so [I] forgot about it until 2012/2013. During that time a series of articles came out, including Bill McKibben’s “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” that shocked people, including friends. I began to hear people say “game over,” that all was lost. I had a different take, that maybe it was “game on” now. So, I decided to create an organization and do the research, even though there was virtually no money or support for it.
Paul hard at work on Drawdown (Photo: Elijah Allan-Blitz)
KC: Can you tell me about Project Drawdown and the goal of the book?
Paul Hawken (PH):
The organization, Project Drawdown, consists of a small staff, 70 research fellows from 22 countries, over 120 prominent and knowledgeable advisors and several dozen outside expert scientific reviewers.
The goal is to map, measure and model the 100 most substantive solutions to reverse global warming. It is fascinating that although we have had public discourse about global warming for over 40 years, no one had measured the top 100 (or 25, 50, etc.) solutions to climate change, until now. I do not know why. Eighty of the solutions analyzed are in place, well understood and are scaling. What our 70-person global research team did was measure the impact the solutions would have if they continued to scale in a rigorous but reasonable way, and what the cost and profits would be. All carbon data was based on peer-reviewed science.
Could we reverse the buildup of greenhouse gases with techniques and practices already underway? We didn’t know. The goal of the book was to present the findings, describe the solutions in ways that fascinated and informed, and accompany them with images that enlivened and inspired.
PROJECT DRAWDOWN: Top 10 Solutions by overall rank
Project Drawdown is the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming. "Drawdown" maps, measures, models and describes the 100 most substantive solutions to global warming. Each solution is broken down by its history, how it works, the carbon reduction it provides, the relative cost and savings, and the path to adoption. The goal of the research that informs "Drawdown" is to determine if we can reverse the buildup of atmospheric carbon within 30 years. Below are the Top 10 solutions by impact—a list that many are surprised by, and dominated by topics familiar to our daily lives like diet choices and gender equality.
#1 - Refrigerant Management
Every refrigerator and air conditioner contains chemical refrigerants that absorb and release heat to enable chilling. Refrigerants, specifically CFCs and HCFCs, were once culprits in depleting the ozone layer. Thanks to the 1987 Montreal Protocol, they have been phased out. HFCs, the primary replacement, spare the ozone layer, but have 1,000 to 9,000 times greater capacity to warm the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Through an amendment to the Montreal Protocol, the world will start to phase out HFCs in 2019.
#2 - Wind Turbines (Onshore)
The wind industry is marked by a proliferation of turbines, dropping costs and heightened performance. In many locales, wind is either competitive with or less expensive than coal-generated electricity—and it has no fuel costs and no pollution. Ongoing cost reduction will soon make wind energy the least expensive source of electricity, perhaps within a decade.
#3 - Reduced Food Waste
A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage, including methane when organic matter lands in the global rubbish bin. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions.
#4 - Plant-Rich Diet
Plant-rich diets reduce emissions and also tend to be healthier, leading to lower rates of chronic disease. According to a 2016 study, business-as-usual emissions could be reduced by as much as 70 percent through adopting a vegan diet and 63 percent for a vegetarian diet, which includes cheese, milk and eggs. $1 trillion in annual healthcare costs and lost productivity would be saved.
#5 - Tropical Forests
As a forest ecosystem and its flora and fauna return the interactions between organisms and species revive, the forest regains its multidimensional roles: supporting the water cycle, conserving soil, protecting habitat and pollinators, providing food, medicine and fiber, and giving people places to live, adventure and worship. The simplest scenario is to release land from non-forest use, such as growing crops or damming a valley, and let a young forest rise up on its own. Protective measures can keep pressures such as fire, erosion, or grazing at bay.
#6 - Educating Girls
Education lays a foundation for vibrant lives for girls and women, their families and their communities. It also is one of the most powerful levers available for avoiding emissions by curbing population growth. Women with more years of education have fewer and healthier children, and actively manage their reproductive health. Education also shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change. They can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees and water, even as nature’s cycles change.
#7 - Family Planning
Honoring the dignity of women and children through family planning is not about governments forcing the birth rate down (or up, through natalist policies). Nor is it about those in rich countries, where emissions are highest, telling people elsewhere to stop having children. When family planning focuses on health care provision and meeting women’s expressed needs, empowerment, equality and well-being are the result; the benefits to the planet are side effects.
#8 - Solar Farms
The sun provides a virtually unlimited, clean and free fuel at a price that never changes. Solar farms take advantage of that resource, with large-scale arrays of hundreds, thousands, or in some cases millions of photovoltaic (PV) panels. In many parts of the world, solar PV is now cost competitive with or less costly than conventional power generation. In tandem with other renewables and enabled by better grids and energy storage, solar farms are ushering in the clean energy revolution.
#9 - Silvopasture
Silvopasture is an ancient practice that integrates trees and pasture into a single system for raising livestock. Research suggests silvopasture far outpaces any grassland technique for counteracting the methane emissions of livestock and sequestering carbon under-hoof. Pastures strewn or crisscrossed with trees sequester five to 10 times as much carbon as those of the same size that are treeless, storing it in both biomass and soil.
#10 - Rooftop Solar
Rooftop solar is spreading as the cost of panels falls, driven by incentives to accelerate growth, economies of scale in manufacturing and advances in PV technology. In grid-connected areas, rooftop panels can put electricity production in the hands of households. In rural parts of low-income countries, they can leapfrog the need for large-scale, centralized power grids, and accelerate access to affordable, clean electricity—becoming a powerful tool for eliminating poverty.
KC: Can you take me through an average day of work at Project Drawdown?
Paul Hawken (PH):
Until the final draft of the book was submitted Feb. 12, we were consumed with hundreds of details pertaining to the text, imagery, licenses, credits, numbers (models), harmonizing impact statements and more. We were tying together two and a half years of work. The months of March through mid-April focused on website design and content, pre-publication interviews, publicity coordination, event scheduling and social media outreach, commencing with the publication on April 18.
Until now, the team at Drawdown has been a bit overwhelmed in its effort to respond to incoming queries, comments, requests, talks, seminars, webinars and offers. Since that time, the research team has been fully occupied with preparing the descriptions of the research for publication on drawdown.org, including technical assessment summaries, sector summaries and upgraded models. I think all of us would welcome an “average day.” Haven’t seen one yet.
KC: How do you feel this book fits into the context of your other work?
Paul Hawken (PH):
It might be too soon to evaluate how it fits. My intention has always been to look at possibility, to honor the true nature of humanity—its kindness, brilliance and goodness —and to do so through a matrix of biology and living systems. I have never been interested in polemics or right-left political divisiveness.
I see the science of climate change as a gift, not a curse. Global warming is feedback from the atmosphere. The earth is a system, and any system that does not incorporate feedback fails. This is true of our body, ecosystems, social systems, and business and economic systems. Global warming is creating huge breakthroughs in energy, transport, agriculture, housing, urbanization, materials and more. If it wasn’t for the science of climate change, we would be destroying the Earth faster than we already are. I wanted to bring this point out into the open. Focusing repeatedly on the problem does not solve the problem. The science of what will happen if we do not act has been here for a long time. Because there is a perception that society is not taking sufficient action, there has been a tendency to focus mainly on the serious impacts of global warming. Ninety-eight percent of the media stories on climate change are about loss and damage. I wanted to change that emphasis.
“My intention has always been to look at possibility, to honor the true nature of humanity—its kindness, brilliance and goodness—and to do so through a matrix of biology and living systems."”
KC: How can people get involved or purchase a copy?
Paul Hawken (PH): Depends on where they are. For some reason, although we are published by Penguin U.S., Penguin U.K. has hesitated to publish. And those are the editions that would naturally go to Commonwealth countries. Their thinking is the same as Penguin in the States, that books on climate and the environment do not sell. The U.S. publisher was hesitant. The good news is that "Drawdown" became a New York Times best-seller its first week (number nine), something no climate or environment book had done for over 25 years. It can be purchased through Amazon at least, but it would be so much better if it was available in bookstores.
Photo: Terrence McCarthy
KC: Who are some of your biggest influences?
Paul Hawken (PH): My wife, Barry Lopez, Byron Katie, Jane Jacobs, Janine Benyus, Mary Oliver, Gary Snyder, Margaret Atwood, William Merwin, Henry David Thoreau, Pema Chödrön, Doris Lessing, Stephen Mitchell, David James Duncan, Arundhati Roy, Mooji Baba, Jane Goodall and Alexander von Humboldt.
KC: What are some things you do to reduce your impact?
Paul Hawken (PH): Honestly, no matter what I do I will have an outsize impact, because I travel to speak and teach about "Drawdown." At home, we eschew meat and dairy, buy local and organic, pay close attention to food waste. We have solar electricity, one car, a bike for commuting, a cooperatively owned organic farm and more. But mobility is significant. And we do not watch TV.
This interview was featured in the last issue of The Regeneration Magazine. Use code KEAP at checkout and select Issue No.1 and/or Issue No.2 for 100% off. Also, consider pre-ordering Issue No. 3 or getting a subscription!
You can follow them through the links below left, and keep an eye open on their next issue which will explore a regenerative vision for the fashion industry—an industry that is second only to fossil fuels in its contribution to climate change.
More From The Regeneration
Interview by Kyle Calian
Artwork by Dan Abary
All photography courtesy of The Regeneration (unless noted).
The Keap Ignite Series
We share something new and inspiring every month alongside our subscription candles. The Keap Ignite series is a 12-volume interview series with artists, creators and community leaders that have inspired us. For our subscribers, this takes the form of a collectible mini-zine and matchbox in each monthly package. Learn more about the Keap candle subscription.